School Lunch for All
A national campaign to support universal school meals for all kids has reignited. Universal school meals ensure that all kids, regardless of their parent’s income, have free access to school meals including breakfast, lunch and after school snacks. The campaign urges the USDA to approve a universal school meals pilot program for the 2020-21 school year and represents an important opportunity for school nutrition staff who have been working tirelessly amid this pandemic to ensure kids and families have access to food.
Despite school nutrition staff’s best efforts, kids and families are experiencing an unprecedented rate of food insecurity and are at an increased risk of going hungry due to job loss and rising unemployment as a result of the pandemic. Though the USDA has granted numerous waivers that have provided a great deal of flexibility for school meals, such as the non-congregate feeding and area eligibility waivers, they do not represent a sustainable solution for the upcoming school year. Universal school meals represent a proactive approach to providing meals to kids and families. It would eliminate the need for state agencies to apply and reapply for waivers throughout the upcoming school year.
The campaign to support universal school meals began last year with the introduction of the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2019. It sought to address an emerging, yet disturbing trend that was sweeping the nation – lunch shaming, a stigma experienced by children for fear of being seen as poor or as a result of their inability to pay for school lunch. A universal school meal program would eliminate the requirement to prove financial hardship and eliminate the stigma associated with receiving a school meal – normalizing school meal participation.
Over 90 million school meals were served in the 2017-18 school year to students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals, representing 42 percent of students. In order to qualify for a reduced-price lunch families’ income must not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level and in order to qualify for a free lunch families’ income must not exceed 135 percent of the federal poverty level.
Having every student participate in school meals removes the dynamic between families and schools allowing school nutrition staff to focus on preparing and serving healthy meals to children, and it eliminates a significant financial burden for school districts and families.
Take action! Demand that Congress provide free school meals to every K-12 child by signing on to the School Lunch for All petition.